PNG elections: WLI alumni bring women candidates together to share experiences

Thursday, October 5, 2023
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In June 2023, Australia Awards WLI and Divine Word University (DWU) alumni Dr Irene Semos, Dr Fiona N’Drower, Ms Lomot Rodney and Ms Anna Apop organised a forum to bring together and learn from notable women candidates who contested the 2022 PNG National General Elections.

Co-hosted by WLI through the Leadership Fund, PNG Australia Alumni Association and DWU, the post-election forum’s panel featured the first two women voted into PNG's 118-seat parliament in the last five years.

Focused on knowledge-sharing and platforming and contributing to the evidence-base on women in PNG parliament, who are severely underrepresented, the WLI alumni reflected on their use of leadership tools and concepts learned while on the Women’s Developmental Leadership Program to bring the event to life.

About the post-election forum

A hybrid online and in-person event hosted at DWU in Madang, PNG, ‘A Way Forward: Learning from the Experiences of Women Candidates during the 2022 PNG National General Elections’ was attended by over 200 people in person and almost 100 live-streamers.  

At the time of writing this article, the event recording had been viewed (up to) 4,100 times.  

Moderated by Dr Pamela Kamya, Vice President Research and Higher Degrees, DWU, and WLI LeadershipConnect alumna, the panel featured the Hon. Kessy Sawang, Member for Rai Coast, PNG Minister for Labour and Employment and WLI Steering Committee Member, and the Hon. Rufina Peter, Governor of Central Province and PNG Parliamentary Leader.  

Hon. Sawang and Hon. Peter were joined by the Hon. Theonila Roka Matbob, Member for Ioro Constituency and Autonomous Region of Bougainville Parliamentary Leader, and Ms Elizabeth Karaliu Ramatlap, Assistant Legislative Counsel, Candidate for West Sepik Regional Seat and WLI alumna.

Panelists shared practical lessons and insights from their experiences contesting, campaigning, being elected to parliament and even being defeated, and the strategies they used to build community support (including from men and community leaders) and navigate the deeply patriarchal and often threatening political landscape.

Also at the event, then-Acting Australian High Commissioner Dr Joanne Loundes delivered a keynote speech, while the Hon. Jimmy Uguro, Member for Usino-Bundi and PNG Minister for Education, directly addressed men on the need to respect and support women’s rights and political participation.

The organising WLI alumni team wanted to bring the event to life for two major reasons. Firstly, to help aspiring women politicians (and organisations supporting them) understand the local political and leadership dynamics that women in PNG have to endure during elections.  

And secondly, to gain practical experience in platforming women who are underrepresented in formal and political decision-making in PNG and globally.  

For project lead Dr Semos, it was also about exercising leadership in her field of academia and research.  

[Pictured from left to right: WLI Women's Developmental Leadership Program alumni Lomot Rodney, Dr Irene Semos and Dr Fiona D'Drower]

Using WLI tools and concepts

Reflecting on tools and concepts learned while on the WLI Women’s Developmental Leadership Program that contributed to the event's organisation, project lead Irene says her sessions with WLI Leadership Coach Tony Liston – specifically, on working with people, holding meetings, and decision-making – were some of the most useful.

Dr Semos says, “As Melanesians and Pacific Islanders, collective styles of leadership are practiced through our relational ways of living and ways of being.  

“This connection and relationship is practiced strongly in an organisation such as DWU, where members of the [event] committee had to take both a frontline and backline approach towards organising the ins and outs...

“Such emphasis on community participation and support through the collective created the opportunity for such an inaugural forum as this Diwai Post-Election Women’s Forum; thus initiating a transformation of mindsets in leadership and participation.

“As part of collective leadership, coalition building was an integral part of the leadership and organisation of the forum.”

[Pictured: Event panelists with DWU staff members]

What’s next?

The organising WLI team reflected that being a first-of-its-kind in the region, the forum acted as a “starting point” for ongoing conversations about the transfer of knowledge from women in politics and leadership.

“Having present modern-day women parliamentarians and candidates paves the way in finding out more about cultural and context-specific approaches and strategies around women’s voice and representation in Parliament,” Dr Semos says.

Download the event Summary Paper

An event Summary Paper featuring key insights shared by event panelists was also developed in contribution to the evidence-base on experiences of women seeking to lead in politics. Click on the 'Download the event summary paper' button below or access it through the Resources page.


A Way Forward: Learning from the Experiences of Women Candidates during the 2022 PNG National General Elections (also called the Diwai Post-Election Women's Forum) was co-hosted by WLI through the Leadership Fund, PNG Australia Alumni Association and DWU.  

Through the Leadership Fund, Women’s Development Leadership Program participants and alumni like Dr Semos, Dr N’Drower, Ms Rodney and Ms Apop are eligible to apply for funding to develop and implement real-world leadership projects.

Download the event summary paper